Life in Ruin
The roads are made of stone. Honduran men stroll casually through the streets. Shielded from the searing sun, their machetes swing step by step, in and out of the circle of shade offered by their cowboy hats. In the center of this charming city there is a gathering point. A small water fountain sits like one of the nearby Mayan ruins- dry but not abandoned. It is surrounded with life: a mother resting while her children race through the square, a young man leaning on his tuk-tuk taxi while potential customers wander by, an occasional passing bell jingling from carts that carry cold ice cream treats for anyone interested.
The air is warm and humid. The sky hints of rain. In this section of town, my eyes are constantly drawn to the strong white Catholic church that watches over the square, while the streets on either side offer their own intrigue. One is lined with restaurants, from street carts to sit down. The other, where the tuk-tuks linger, is less noticeable, but with a bit of waiting a small entrance takes attention. A crowd swells and shrinks, one by one they enter empty handed and exit with small black bags. There are no tickets to go in, no secret code. The only secret is pausing long enough to notice it. I approach, step around and over young girls selling corn tortillas. Then like passing though a C.S. Lewis wardrobe, I enter a world much more vibrant than its door. Bright bananas, ripe red tomatoes, prickly pineapples-everything local and priced to sell.
Copan is enchanting. However, it’s not the reason most people visit. The main reason most people come to this area is tucked twelve walking minutes from town. The reason is the ruins.
Guarded by an army of tall trees and thick brush, you wouldn’t know you were on the grounds of an ancient Mayan town, were it not for the cropping of roadside souvenirs at the entrance. The enchantment continues. Shrieking fills the air, as though the spirit of the temple is either welcoming or warning its visitors. Moments later the source is revealed as bright feathered macaws perch atop ruined rock.
Much of the grounds are well kept, making it easy to imagine life in this system of ancient architecture. There is the temple, a large pyramid, an ancient Mayan stadium complete with changing rooms (or sections) and designated seating for the elite and less than elite. There are intricate carvings, housing, an open steam bath. Then there is the more primitive side, such as the rock used to sacrifice life with an obvious place for the honored victim to lay his head, carved with small canals so the blood can flow freely.
I spent almost 5 hours wandering the grounds, climbing old stone steps, resting in crumbled courtyards, crouching through a system of tunnels. In the end I was satisfied. The ruins are fascinating, intriguing, fun to visit and imagine people of the past. But I am moved most by the present, the simple souls and existence just outside these ancient walls. It is the living that inspire life.